World War II Memorial: Historical Timeline

The Airmen of Note perform at the World War II Memorial, commemorating the 70th anniversary of V-E Day in Washington, D.C., May 8, 2015. The event was attended by hundreds of World War II veterans and representatives from 30 countries. (U.S. Air Force photo)
The Airmen of Note perform at the World War II Memorial, commemorating the 70th anniversary of V-E Day in Washington, D.C., May 8, 2015. The event was attended by hundreds of World War II veterans and representatives from 30 countries. (U.S. Air Force photo)

1993

May 25 – President Clinton signed into law Congressional authorization for the construction of a World War II Memorial on Federal land in the District of Columbia or its environs. Congress gave the responsibility for raising funds, designing, and then constructing the Memorial to the American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) — a government agency that oversees battle monuments and military cemeteries.

1995

January 20 – The National Park Service identified seven potential sites on the Mall for the Memorial and museum but the Rainbow Pool at the Lincoln Memorial site was not one of them.

March 2 – The ABMC and the Presidential Memorial Advisory Board (MAB) unanimously selected the Constitution Gardens site as the most appropriate one out of the six remaining alternatives.

May 9 The ABMC requested from the National Capital Memorials Commission (NCMC) that the monument be built on the Constitution Gardens site, 100 feet north of the Lincoln Memorial’s Reflecting Pool and near Constitution Avenue on the Mall (the Constitution Gardens site is marked with an orange arrow on our Home Page – just below the “S” of National Coalition to Save Our Mall).

June 20 – After careful review the ABMC returned to the NCMC to repeat their request that the WWII monument be built on the Constitution Gardens site as their first and primary choice. The NCMC agrees to pass their request on to the CFA and NCPC for final approval.

July 27 – J. Carter Brown, chairman of Commission of Fine Arts (CFA) (one of two federal agencies that must approve the site and design for monuments on the Mall), refused to approve the Constitution Gardens site and publicly stated that it is “not prominent enough”.

July 27 – Later the same day the National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC) (the second federal reviewing agency) formally voted to approve Constitution Gardens.

September 19 – The CFA, in a surprise move, voted to locate the memorial on the Rainbow Pool. This was the first time the Rainbow Pool was suggested as a site and no advance public notice was given that this was to be the new site.

October 5 – Only 17 days later – the NCPC rescinded its July 27 vote and approved the Rainbow Pool site, again without any advance public notice of plans to rescind approval of Constitution Gardens as the site or to consider the Rainbow Pool as a new site.

November 11 (Veterans Day) – President Clinton and sponsors dedicated the Rainbow Pool site for the WWII memorial, burying “Sacred Soil” from 16 WWII cemeteries at the spot.

1996

April 19 – ABMC and the General Services Administration (GSA) announced a two-stage national competition to select the design for the WWII Memorial

May 16 – Petitions of Protest signed by deans of Colleges of Architecture and Design from across the country protest the restrictive rules of the design competition.

May 17 – The rules of the WWII Memorial Design Competition are modified (for first time).

June 11 – The rules of the WWII Memorial Design Competition are modified (for second time); deadline for submission extended to August 12th.

July 24 – The rules of the WWII Memorial Design Competition are modified (for third time).

August 8 – The rules of the WWII Memorial Design Competition are modified (for fourth time).

August 15-16 – 404 entries were reviewed and 6 competitive finalists were selected; Stage 2 of the Design Competition begins.

October 29-31 – The Design Jury composed of distinguished American architects, landscape architects, architecture critics, and World War II veterans reviewed the designs and unanimously selected Friedrich St. Florian’s design concept.

1997

1997 Competition-winning design for the World War II Memorial by architect Friedrich St. Florian, rejected by federal review agencies as too large, to be replaced by the current design.
1997 Competition-winning design for the World War II Memorial by architect Friedrich St. Florian would have required destruction of the Lincoln Memorial’s oval-shaped Rainbow Pool and cutting down of the elms framing the site.

January 17 – President Clinton announced the winner of the design competition. The selection of the massive St. Florian design released a storm of controversy from public officials and members of the public as well as the press, focusing for the first time on the fundamental problem with the selection of the Rainbow Pool site as the site for the World War II Memorial.

The winning design consisted of a paved plaza, lowered 15-feet below grade, enclosed at the north and south by semi-circular structures consisting of 25 40-foot-high columns and 50-foot-high walls and sloping earthen berms, inside of which would be housed 43,000 square feet of educational and exhibition space.

July 24 – The CFA rejected St. Florian’s design concept, which was characterized as too “bulky and massive”, although it reaffirmed its approval of the Rainbow Pool site.

1997 Competition-winning designfor the World War II Memorial included 50, 40-foot-tall columns and berms housing museum space.
1997 Competition-winning design included 50 40-foot-tall columns and berms housing museum space.

July 31 – NCPC also rejected the design concept but reaffirmed its approval of the Rainbow Pool site.

Opposition to the WWII Memorial site and design in 1997 included members of Congress led by Senator Bob Kerrey (D-NE), a decorated veteran of the Vietnam War, major media including the New York Times, and the Committee of 100 on the Federal City, Washington’s oldest citizens planning and advocacy organization.

At this point plans for a museum — part of St. Florian’s design concept and an element required in the design competition were dropped. Instead of reopening the design competition, or choosing from the other 6 finalists, the sponsor only asks St. Florian to try again with a new design concept. He decided to go to Europe to study ABMC battle monuments and military cemeteries.

1998

May 13 – The National Park Service (NPS) made available for a 30-day public review an Environmental Assessment (“EA”) for the World War II Memorial based on a revised design yet to be submitted for approval. This EA concluded that the proposed Memorial would not have a significant impact on the environment, and therefore would not require a full Environmental Impact Statement.

May 21 – St. Florian tried a second time and won approval of his new design concept from CFA. This second design concept eliminated the underground interior space featured in the original St. Florian design concept of 1997, and instead consisted of a lowered plaza surrounding a pool, enclosed by parapet walls surmounted by a wrought iron fence, and flanked to the north and south by 36-foot- tall granite memorial arches marking the entry to the memorial. The CFA requested that additional consideration be given to a number of the design elements, including the arches, the metal perimeter screen, and opening direct pedestrian access to the west toward the Lincoln Memorial

July 2 – The NPS issued a formal “Decision Notice and Finding of No Significant Impact on Environmental Assessment For the National World War II Memorial.” The Decision Notice stated that “this design concept will not result in any adverse impacts to the significant vistas in the environs of the Rainbow Pool.”

July 9 – NCPC granted preliminary approval to the revised design concept presented in the EA, but like the CFA, requested a number of modifications, including re-design of the “perimeter screen,” and opening pedestrian access toward the Lincoln Memorial

During this period the 18 Senators and 6 Congressmen who objected to the Rainbow Pool site and St. Florian’s 1997 design concept dropped their objections after major design changes were promised.

The Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool and Rainbow Pool in the 1980s (left); The Rainbow Pool site under construction with for the World War II Memorial (right).
The Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool and Rainbow Pool as completed in the 1920s (left); The Rainbow Pool site under construction with for the World War II Memorial (right).

1999

May 20 – The CFA approved the Memorial design at 25% completion, with a number of design components still being characterized as a “work in progress.” This third revised 1999 design (a broad revision of the 1998 design concept) still failed to open pedestrian access toward the Lincoln Memorial. Instead, it increased the height of the Memorial’s triumphal arches from 36 to 41 feet, as well as their width, replaced the wrought iron fence surrounding the plaza with 56 seventeen-foot-high granite pillars forming two semi- circles between the edges of the Reflecting Pool and the rows of trees lining the Reflecting and Rainbow Pools, and added a “sacred precinct” sunk six feet below the existing grade and enclosed by a six-foot wall and flanking waterfalls on the west

June 3 – The NCPC gave the preliminary site and building its approval, like CFA abandoning their recommendations that pedestrian access be opened at the west, and saying that “people will just walk around it [the 7.4 acre Memorial]”

November – Ambassador F. Haydn Williams of ABMC is quoted in Talk Magazine as saying, “we got the site before they [the public] knew what hit them, then they came out of the woodwork”

2000

July 13 – The NPS East & West Potomac Parks Historic District Revised National Register Nomination and the NPS “Cultural Landscape Report West Potomac Park Lincoln Memorial Grounds” were finally released to the public. These reports–the first of which had been completed in 1999 but not released to the public for one year–documented that the Rainbow Pool site was a historic element of the 1902 McMillan Plan for the Mall and an integral component of the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool.

July 20 – The ABMC and NPS submitted the final site and building plans, which was given final approval by CFA. This revised design of 2000 increased the height of the triumphal arches from 41 to 43 feet and added a nine-foot-high “Wall of Freedom” between the flanking waterfalls on the west. The design still completely blocked pedestrian access to the west through the Memorial.

July 25 – The Advisory Council on Historic Preservation made the unusual decision to terminate consultation under Section 106 of the Historic Preservation Act of 1966. The Advisory Council stated that it would convene a panel of Council members, conduct a public hearing to receive testimony from the proponents and the public on the project, and then provide formal comments to the NPS

August 28 – The Advisory Council held a public hearing to evaluate the WWII Memorial project and its impact on the historic resource, the National Mall

September 5 – Cathryn Slater, Chair of the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, issued the Council’s formal, highly critical comments on the proposed the World War II Memorial. The Advisory Council also made specific findings that the Memorial would have “serious and unresolved adverse effects on the preeminent historic character of the National Mall”

September 13 – Bruce Babbitt, then-Secretary of the Interior, wrote to the Advisory Council. The Secretary’s letter did not respond to the Advisory Council’s comments, but instead, enclosed a memorandum from Robert Stanton, Director of the National Park Service, expressing the NPS’s disagreement with the Advisory Council’s findings.

September 21 – The NCPC reviewed and approved the final site and building plans for the World War II Memorial on September 21, 2000. NCPC deferred any action on the Memorial’s “ancillary” elements, including new roadway and handicapped parking area to be cut through the Mall south of the Memorial; the reconstructed and expanded bus turn-outs north of the Memorial adjacent to Constitution Gardens; the new “contemplative area” north of the Memorial; and a new ranger station and public restrooms, and engineering/mechanical rooms. The NCPC also deferred action on the Memorial’s central “Light of Freedom” sculptural element and the Memorial’s lighting

October 2 – National Coalition to Save Our Mall, the WWII Veterans to National Coalition to Save Our Mall, the Committee of 100 on the Federal City, and the DC Preservation League filed a formal complaint in the Federal Court for the District of Columbia against the Secretary of the Interior, the National Park Service, the Commission of Fine Arts, the National Capital Planning Commission, and the American Battle Monuments Commission. The basis of the legal complaint was the decision letter from the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation.

November 16 – CFA approved the “ancillary elements”, including new roadway, parking, “contemplative area”, and two new buildings. CFA rejected, however, the alternative site for a helicopter landing area that had been identified and approved by the NPS on the Washington Monument Grounds. The NPS says helicopters will land, instead, on the walkways on the Washington Monument Grounds.

December 14 – NCPC approved the “ancillary elements”

2001

January 23 – NPS signed the construction permit for the WWII Memorial

February 15 – National Coalition to Save Our Mall filed for a Preliminary Injunction in Federal District Court

March 5 – The U.S. Justice Department, representing the Defendant NPS, NCPC, CFA, and ABMC, notified National Coalition counsel that there is a question of illegality with the votes taken by the NCPC since 1999. Although the former Chairman Harvey Gantt’s term had expired in January 1999, he continued on and presided over NCPC hearings in 1999 and 2000, and continued to vote in favor of the Memorial.

March 7 – National Coalition to Save Our Mall received a Temporary Restraining Order from the Court to stop the NPS from pruning the roots, and causing the deterioration and death, of the historic elms framing the Rainbow Pool site. The TRO was necessary because the NPS refused to provide the Justice Department or the National Coalition with the requested report on the plan for pruning and preserving the historic elms

March 8 – Justice Department requested and received a stay on the lawsuit from the Federal Court until the legality of past NCPC votes can be determined. (The National Coalition had been assured by the Justice Dept. that NO further actions will be taken prior to 30 days after the next NCPC meeting – April 5; further, that NO pruning of the trees will occur without 7 days prior notice.)

March 20 – Senator Tim Hutchinson (R-Ark) submitted Senate bill S.580 to expedite the WWII Memorial “without regard to the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969, the Commemorative Works Act, or any other law pertaining to the siting or design for the World War II memorial.”

April 5 – NCPC held a closed Executive Session to decide how to answer the questions about the legality of past votes during former Chairman Gantt’s expired term. The National Coalition and other organizations had petitioned NCPC to open the hearing to the public. NCPC decided to reconsider the votes.

May 3 – In the open public session of NCPC’s monthly meeting, Commissioners voted to hold a special public hearing. The June 14 public meeting will review and reconsider past approvals of the site and design of the WWII Memorial.

May 21 – Congress passed bill (H.R. 1696) to expedite WWII Memorial: “Notwithstanding any other provision of law, the World War II memorial shall be constructed expeditiously at the dedicated Rainbow Pool site. The decision to locate the memorial at the Rainbow Pool site and the actions by the (federal commissions) shall not be subject to administrative or judicial review.”

May 28 (Memorial Day) – President Bush signed H.R. 1696 (now Public Law 107-11) into law.

For more information on the lawsuit, and the National Coalition’s appeal to the Appeal’s Court and to the Supreme Court, see Lawsuit.

2004

May 29  The World War II Memorial was opened to the public on April 29 and dedicated by President George W. Bush on May 29.